Spains’ most expensive film to date (a swish $28m to produce) is set in the 17th Century during the penultimate Habsburg King of Spain’s reign: Philip IV – el rey planeta. This swashbuckling narrative tries to explore the decline of Spain through the life of mercenary Diego Alatriste. A Spanish Clint Eastwood wannabe, the film is based on the serial book of the same title by Arturo Perez Reverte. And herein lies the problem with the film. To satisfy 21st Century instant gratification movie going audiences, a 9 serial book has to be squeezed into a 2 hour and 20 minute film. There are too many complex narratives to explore. Perhaps they should have borrowed Hollywoods very successful concept of sequels! The film also presumes its audience is overly familiar with Spanish history and art, how do you then sell this film to Anglophone and Asian audiences? I found myself having to plumb the depths of my school history to remember where we were in European history, has Breda happened? Is this the Thirty Years War? Has the King married his niece yet? Oh the Anglo Spanish War has happened and the Duke of Buckingham and Prince of Wales are here for the Spanish Marriage – did that happen, oh I can’t remember. The film does not help solve this conundrum for you? Perhaps an adequate historical summary would have helped.
The cinematography has been crafted to mimic Velaquez’s paintings but the light had me reminiscing Rembradt. I liked the way Goyas nude Maja was recreated as Inigo plots his elopement with Angelica de Alquezar, any moment now I was expecting to be whisked off to Palacio Real for an audience with Las Meninas.
If you like your military history, you may be impressed with the visualisation of the Battle of Rocroi, with the Spanish going valiantly down. Its quite something to see the rug tug badly resourced Spanish Regiment of the Worlds Preeminent Empire take on the shiny, newly kitted out French Regime of the Duc D’Enghien; thus emphasing the Ptomkien nature of the Spanish Empire and its rapid decline. Again if you did not know your history, you would not know that the Spanish lost the battle.
The most convincing roles I found were that of Quevedo and Olivares. Casting a woman in the role of the effeminate Bocanegro was probably done for shock value and to get bums on seats ( a $28m film needs to turn a profit), rather than a brave artistic choice. I found the role rather limpid.
All in all, a nice Sunday afternoon film. I get the feeling I will prefer the book, as I expect it to have more meat – substance, than a 2hour film has time for.
I found this rather interesting documentary. Enjoy!